Jamie Lee Higgins walked into Florian Hall in Dorchester on Monday morning looking like Jessica Chastain. She walked out looking like Sinead O’Connor.
She is 20 years old, an age when most people in her place are preoccupied with their appearance. But she was even more beautiful when she left her long locks of red hair on the floor at Florian Hall, because she did it for a 4-year-old boy named Tommy Kelly.
“That could be any of my brothers,” Jamie Lee Higgins said, looking toward the table where her three young brothers sat, bald as cue balls. “It could be my family.”
If it takes a village to raise a child, Adams Village is doing pretty well by Tommy Kelly. The ladies who work at Aidan’s Corner Barber Shop on Adams Street set up shop in Florian Hall and began shaving heads at 7:30 Monday morning.
“The police have a summer camp for kids, and when we got here, all the kids were waiting,” Heather Walker was saying.
Heather Walker runs the Aidan’s barber shops in Adams Village and Lower Mills in Dorchester. All the women who work for her have Mondays off because that’s when many hair salons are closed. But they didn’t hesitate when asked to spend their day off creating wiffles, the Great Buzz Off for TK. They even brought in some stylists from other salons.
All for a little boy from Dorchester.
Tommy’s father, Eddie Kelly, is a Boston firefighter, His mother, Katy, is a labor advocate. The night before the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, I happened to see Tommy Kelly at the Boylston Street firehouse. His mom was running for the team that supports the Martin Richard Foundation and Norah O’Donnell from CBS was interviewing Katy Kelly at the firehouse. Tommy was running around the firehouse.
J.R. Ortiz, a lieutenant on Engine 33, drew TK duty, keeping Tommy occupied while mom did the interview. J.R. Ortiz is in good shape but he needed oxygen when it was over. If you bottled TK’s energy, you could light up China.
The next time I saw Tommy, two months later, he was lying in a bed in Children’s Hospital, his energy sapped. He had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer.
If the news for Edzo and Katy Kelly that their son had cancer was every parent’s nightmare, the reaction from their immediate neighbors in Adams Village, their extended neighbors in Dorchester, their well-beyond-extended neighbors in Boston and elsewhere was the answer to every parent’s prayer: that an entire neighborhood, an entire city, a virtual community that stretched to Italy and Ireland and Brazil and who knows where else was pulling and praying for their little boy.
Tommy Kelly is Heather Walker’s customer. She cuts his hair and the truth is, as much as he likes Heather, Tommy Kelly is a 4-year-old boy and does not like sitting in a chair and getting his hair cut.
“Just before Tommy got sick, Edzo brought him in for a haircut and he was none too happy,” Heather Walker said. “Then this beautiful little girl came in and Tommy looked at her and he just stopped. He sat there and let me cut his hair.”
On Monday, Florian Hall looked like the barber shop on Parris Island, where Tommy Kelly’s uncle Greg lost all his hair years ago. Men, women, boys, girls stepped forward, like sheep, willing to be sheared.
The idea is, if Tommy Kelly has to lose his hair, we all have to lose our hair.
TK, dressed as Spider-Man, ran around like, well, Spider-Man.
Heather Walker was on her feet for 10 hours straight.
“I cheated,” she said. “I took 10 minutes to grab a salad.”
When it was all over, more than 1,000 people had their heads shaved at Florian Hall.
For a little boy.
For their neighbors.
For something bigger than all of us.